Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Last Semester

By rights I should be checking papers instead of banging out this piece. But there are only four more essays to check, and I know, more or less, the quality of work my students will turn in. Besides, my Creative Nonfiction class is small, only nine students, and computing the grades will be short work with the spreadsheet. I turned in the grades for my other class, Advanced Programming with Python, earlier in the week; and so there's really just the grades for this class to submit. Then that's it. The end of the semester, the end of the school year, and summer to look forward to.

The past semester has been the best so far. Owing to administrative duties that somehow fell on my lap, I ended up teaching only 8 units instead of the required 21. With the reduced lecture load, each week didn't wear me out as much as the previous semesters. And then, I've also got my workflow down pat, so that -- believe it or not -- I don't have to check quizzes or keep track of grades because I can let the computer do it for me. How's that for efficiency?

But really, the reduced load (perhaps I should say the sensible load, instead?) isn't the main reason the semester has been my best yet. It was actually the students. For both my English class and my IT class, I had students who were receptive, eager, and cooperative. They asked questions, they volunteered for projects, they turned in their assignments mostly on time. I went into the classroom with a smile, and I left the classroom with an even bigger one. Not once throughout the semester did I get upset or raise my voice. That's the benchmark for what makes a great semester.

Perhaps it's also because I've mellowed down. After five years of teaching at university, I've fleshed out my classroom philosophy. For instance, there's only so much that students can take in, so it's better that they take to heart three lessons than to cram down ten halfhearted ones they're likely to forget. Encourage rather than threaten, facilitate rather than teach. Know that, deep down, these are teens not quite yet adults, who have anxieties, confusions, and interests. That because of their youth, there are some things that they're going to be able to do better, and consequently, they too will have something to teach me.

Most of all, have fun.

I've learned to gauge the success of my classes by the output of my students. For my CNF class, several of my third-year students wrote pieces that, with just a little more tweaking, would be publishable; and they likely will be.

students produced video games: simple ones, yes, but complete with graphics, storylines, and game mechanics.

And then there's engagement outside the classroom, too. My CNF class attended workshops, poetry readings, and lectures; we ate at a pricey restaurant so they would have material for a food review. Students from my programming class, sophomores still, gave presentations at an open source event alongside seniors and industry speakers.

The biggest change I've had since I started to teaching again was, I think, learning to trust students to be able to do and to make, to not judge too harshly, and to revel in their successes. And as I give it the A's (and the B's, and sadly, yes, some C's and D's, too, but thankfully no F's), I can take joy in the thought that these, too, were my successes.